“I wish you were more real for me,” says a South Korean man in “Wild Goose Dreams,” addressing his wife in faraway America. “I wish I were more real for you.”
That word and concept, “real," is very much up for grabs nowadays, and it supplies the context for this inventive if imperfect play by Hansol Jung.
What, after all, is real in a technology-saturated world where the boundary between a personal life and a virtual one is so porous?
In “Wild Goose Dreams,” now at SpeakEasy Stage Company under the direction of Seonjae Kim, Jung gives vivid life to that question by populating the stage with a rowdy and intrusive chorus of Facebook posts, emojis, texts, voice mails, tweets, cellphone calls, “shares,” “likes,” e-mails, and YouTube performances.
Constantly weaving in and out on Crystal Tiala’s set, dominated by brightly colored vertical panels, these digital kibitzers are an integral part of Jung’s script. A nosy, prying, look-at-me, listen-to-me bunch, embodied by colorfully attired actors, they represent the forces of information overload and online judgment.
And they are a near-constant presence as a romance haltingly blossoms in Seoul between two lonely people: the aforementioned married man, Guk Minsung (Jeffrey Song), and a defector from North Korea, Yoo Nanhee (Eunji Lim).
The two meet, where else, on a dating website. (Fady Demian and Ciaran D’Hondt play digital representations of Minsung and Nanhee.) But their relationship is beset with complications from the start.
Nanhee is wracked with guilt at having left her father behind four years earlier and haunted by thoughts of the retribution North Korean authorities may have meted out to him. She regularly sends him money through an intermediary, but is it reaching him? She talks to him on the phone, but is that really him?
In Seoul, her father (a droll John D. Haggerty) materializes in Nanhee’s dreams and fantasies — another boundary-crossing, a projection of her tormented conscience — and what he has to say is not comforting. For instance, he tells his daughter that Minsung is “a not-good-looking man with a lot of baggage.”
The latter part, at least, is not untrue. Minsung is struggling to maintain his connection with his wife and daughter across a vast distance of space and time. For seven years, he has been a “goose father,” a term for a man who works in South Korea while his wife and children live in an English-speaking country “for the sake of the children’s education,” the chorus informs us. Minsung’s family is in Connecticut, and he, too, is sending them money, but says plaintively at one point: “I wish to be more than an ATM machine.”
Even accounting for the character’s uncertainties, Song’s portrayal of Minsung came across as tentative and underpowered in Sunday’s performance. It felt as if the actor hadn’t quite got his arms around the role yet, which contributed to a lack of chemistry between him and costar Lim.
Lim is quite affecting as Nanhee, poignantly communicating the young North Korean woman’s lost-between-two-worlds state of emotional precariousness — and her attempts to hold onto a sense of herself amid those buffeting forces.
There is plenty to admire in “Wild Goose Dreams.” As with her “Wolf Play” — about a boy adopted from South Korea who is represented by a puppet, presented by Boston’s Company One Theatre early in 2020 — “Wild Goose Dreams” constructs an innovative structure within which to tell a story that feels very much of the moment.
Satirical shots at the inanity of celebrity culture, glimpses of the profound differences between North and South Korea, actors in penguin heads, musical interludes (a guitar-strumming Song): There’s a lot going on here.
But the play also belongs to that crowded theater category of: Better if shorter. (This maxim applies also to movies and, heaven knows, to streaming platforms and cable channels, where “limited series" routinely exceed sensible limits.)
Knowing when to end a play is a crucial (and underrated) aspect of the dramatist’s art. At one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission, “Wild Goose Dreams" feels a bit too long. The spell it casts is a delicate one, and the SpeakEasy production would have been better served within a tighter timeframe.
When the end arrives, though, it’s a heart-piercing moment of beauty that feels very, well, real.
WILD GOOSE DREAMS
Play by Hansol Jung. Directed by Seonjae Kim. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company. At Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts. Through April 8. Tickets start at $25. 617-933-8600, www.SpeakEasyStage.com
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.